Glimpes of gut microbes and their physical world

Glimpes of gut microbes and their physical world

School of Physics Colloquium


September 19, 2016 - 3:00pm


Pettit Building, (Microelectronics Research Center), Room 102 A & B, 791 Atlantic Drive NW, Atlanta, GA 30332


University of Oregon


In each of our digestive tracts, trillions of microbes representing hundreds of different species colonize local environments, reproduce, and compete with one another. The resulting ecosystems influence many aspects their host’s development and health. Little is known about how gut microbial communities vary in space and time: how they grow, fluctuate, and respond to various perturbations. To address this and investigate microbial colonization of the vertebrate gut, my lab applies light sheet fluorescence microscopy to a model system that combines a realistic in vivo environment with a high degree of experimental control: larval zebrafish with defined subsets of commensal bacterial species. Light sheet microscopy enables three-dimensional imaging with high resolution over the entire intestine, providing visualizations that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with other techniques. Quantitative analysis of large image datasets enables measurement of bacterial abundances and distributions. I will describe this approach and focus especially on experiments in which a colonizing bacterial species is challenged by the invasion of a second species, which leads to the decline of the first group. In one two-member system, imaging reveals dramatic population collapses that differentially affect the two species due to their different biogeographies and morphologies. The collapses are driven by the peristaltic motion of the zebrafish intestine, indicating that the physical activity of the host environment can play a major role in mediating inter-species competition. In a second two-member system, control of inter-bacterial killing allows control of succession dynamics, highlighting the role of specific biophysical machineries in shaping inter-species interactions.